THE WINTER PALACE by Eva Stachniak couldn’t have come along at a better time. It’s a novel of Catherine The Great. I have been seeking more information about Catherine The Great for years. There really is not much out there. Until now.
I was thrilled to find this remarkable book trailer. I think it does a fine job of setting the tone for the story.
This novel of Catherine the Great is told through the keen observation of her loyal servant, Varvara (Barbara in Polish). Varvara arrives at the Russian court as a young girl. Her mother dead, her father’s life waning, she was to be taken under the wing of the Empress Elizabeth. But instead of becoming part of the court, Elizabeth made her a servant. Someone else has their eye on this intelligent newcomer. Enter the Chancellor of Russia who teaches Varvara everything he knows about spying. She becomes his eyes and ears. He reports to Elizabeth.
When 14-year-old Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, Germany, is brought to the Russian court by her mother, Varvara becomes her closest confidante. Elizabeth has encouraged this. Elizabeth has decided that her nephew should become her heir. And Sophie is being groomed to be his wife. The empress has never married and is childless. Unfortunately, her nephew Peter is a dolt. And he isn’t happy about this arrangement.
Varvara and Catherine become fast friends. And their friendship deepens with trust and age. Their relationship continues far into the future and is the basis for Catherine’s rise. The story of how these two women were able to take such control is mesmerizing.
Catherine’s name was changed from Sophie to Catherine during the ceremony to convert her faith to the Orthodox faith. The Empress had chosen to name her after her own mother. The next day Catherine and Peter were married and the saga began.
I read this prodigious novel in tandem with parts of Robert Massie’s , CATHERINE THE GREAT. His is a biography that is worthy of a Pulitzer. Put the two together and you have an astonishing read that will fill your senses with the scents and scenes of history and your mind with the sparkling attention to detail.
Stachniack shows us a side of Russia and Catherine the Great that we haven’t seen or heard of before. She keeps the drama tense and ongoing, encouraging swift page-turning as we near the crescendo. And what a knock out coup. This epic novel shows and tells the story of a 14 -year-old girl before her reign began. It is a pointed look at the road Catherine took to the throne. I have just discovered a second novel is in the works. This, taking up where WINTER PALACE leaves off. So, we look forward to reading Stachniack’s version of Catherine on the throne. This novel is a must read for the Russian history aficionado!
I want to thank the publishers at Bantam Books for this advance reading copy.